Dear Darlington Community,
Beginning tomorrow, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, Darlington School will require all students, employees, and guests to campus to wear a face covering while indoors during the school day. It is our hope that this policy will be relatively short term as we live through the challenges presented by the Delta variant of COVID-19, and we will remain agile and open to adapting our policies as necessary. Our goal is to have in-person, on-campus learning for the entirety of the school year, and this is a necessary step in our effort to do so.
The most obvious question is likely, “Why are you making this decision after only one week of school?” I will do my best to articulate our reasoning below.
First, our hospitals have reached a critical juncture in their ability to provide care as a result of the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Our medical professionals and scientists recommend mask wearing as a primary mitigation strategy against the spread of COVID-19. Our broader community needs us to do our part in trying to slow the spread of the virus, which ultimately helps our hospitals remain capable of providing prompt emergency care to students with injuries or illnesses unrelated to COVID-19.
Second, while we do have active cases at Darlington, the broader numbers regarding case counts among school-age children lead us to take this step. You will see in the graph below that last week in the State of Georgia, 10 to 17-year-olds were the largest source of cases. Of additional concern is the way case numbers have also jumped in the 5 to 9-year-old age group. This rate of increase in these age groups is expected to continue over the next several weeks without mitigation.
We will continue to report positive COVID-19 student and faculty/staff cases the same way we did last year. Families of close contacts will be contacted directly by division leadership or the Health Center, and other families within the student’s division will be contacted via email.
Third, the Delta variant has changed how we can expect the virus to behave. With the number of hospitalized people rising quickly each week (one example, COVID-19 cases at Redmond Regional Medical Center are up 50% since last week), with the virus impacting both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, and with the increased viral load associated with both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, we do not have the luxury of waiting to see if “we are right.” While masking is not perfect, the Department of Health and our local hospitals recommend it as a primary option, and we found success last year in mitigating community spread while wearing masks. The characteristics of the Delta variant leave us uncomfortable waiting for an increased case count or outbreak, subsequent quarantines, and data collection to see if our original policy was correct.
Fourth, while we considered maintaining our current policy and implementing a testing protocol, we have decided that is not the prudent course of action. Testing kits need to be used for sick or exposed people. It is not our place to further reduce the scarce resources in our community.
As we have learned repeatedly over the past months, no plan is perfect. Life during this pandemic is both challenging and frustrating for everyone. The sickness and suffering that is happening in our community is heartbreaking. While we hoped for steady linear progress against COVID-19, that is clearly not the case. As a result, we regroup and continue to try our best. The health and well-being of your children are our highest priority and will remain so. We talk often about service beyond self; now is one of those times to live it.
If your child has a medical exemption from wearing a face covering, please contact your child’s division director. We will host a Question and Answer session Tuesday, Aug. 24, at 7:30 p.m. EST via Google Meet for anyone interested. Click here to join the meeting.
Head of School